BOLIVIA. Sucre. As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb in the South American nation, healthcare workers have begun speaking out against their working conditions. While dealing with everything from a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and long hours, to dwindling medical supplies, an even greater challenge has been endured in silence. Medical staff is being forced to work even after testing positive for COVID-19.
Desperation meets criminal negligence
The public healthcare system has suffered from administrative incompetence since the early days of the pandemic. On two occasions, critical medical supplies like ventilators either didn´t arrive in the country or arrived broken. On another occasion, the wrong equipment was purchased entirely.
This was just one of several important balls dropped in the realm of healthcare by the interim government of Jeanine Añez, which has seen three different health ministers in a span of only four months. While the former ministers either quit or were put in jail on charges of corruption, the current health minister Eidy Roca has done nothing to alleviate the growing pressure on the public healthcare system.
The inevitable consequence of these mistakes and a lack of government support has been hundreds of healthcare workers contracting the virus. This created a desperate situation for hospital administrators. They couldn´t afford to have their staff out sick but also risked exposing thousands of other patients if they let infected personnel continue working.
Tragically, some hospitals have chosen to force their staff to work while positive for the virus, even while showing symptoms.
Healthcare workers blow the whistle
One source spoke to Transcontinental Times about her sister, who is a doctor in a public hospital in Santa Cruz. “They made my sister work for over a week while she had terrible symptoms. She had a violent sick stomach, high fever, and really struggled. The hospital told her she had to work, even though it was likely she had the virus,” the source explained, shaking her head in anger. “They even wanted my sister to pay 1,500 bolivianos just to get tested. She was forced to work until the test came back positive, which was over a week. Who knows how many people were infected in that time?”
An anonymous source in Sucre told Transcontinental Times how his niece was forced to work even after testing positive for COVID-19. “My niece is a nurse in Santa Cruz and her symptoms weren´t too bad, but she was told she had to work and couldn´t go home to rest. This was after she tested positive for the virus.”
Yet another source in Sucre confessed that his sister was under pressure to continue working, despite having the most extreme coronavirus symptoms. “My sister still worked for two days after testing positive for COVID-19. She´s a nurse and they wanted her to keep working, but she nearly lost consciousness at the hospital. She finally went home and was put on oxygen immediately. Her whole family tested positive for the virus.”
While the nation rapidly approaches 100,000 cases, there appears to be little hope at present for the crumbling public healthcare system. Coronavirus cases in Bolivia are expected to peak between August and September, according to experts.